The horror and thriller genre have long been seen as the worst offenders of female victimhood exploitation, with its female characters screaming at the screen as they are dragged off into the dark. But since the 70’s, these victims began to fight back. The era of the “Final Girl” was born and after that, its evolution continued.
What is a good, strong female character is always shifting, as feminist theory and its opponents struggle in a never-ending battle for this elusive creature. My list of badass female characters might not be your list, but I tried to be fair to these characters. My requirement is simple: in the context of their movie, are they badass?
If the character has shown intelligence, bravery, or acted logically with the information given to them, they are probably badass. With one caveat: the movie does not sexualize their suffering, punish them for their sexuality (or “femininity”), nor objectify them with the camera. A character can be the final girl and kill the villain, but if the movie doesn’t respect them as characters, they are not good representation and, thus, are not badass to me.
With that in
mind, my chosen six badass female characters are:
Clarice (The Silence of the Lambs)
spends a considerable amount showing us Clarice in vulnerable positions. She’s
tasked with dealing with the manipulative Lecter, has semen throw in her face,
and needs to reveal extremely personal information to a cannibal in order to
continue the case and save a girl’s life. Despite this, Clarice never falters
in her mission. She meets all her challenges with determination and uses her
intelligence to retrieve clues from Lecter as well to find Buffalo Bill. What
makes Clarice such a great character is that her small appearance and gender
are used as a source of tension, but not of titillation. She comes off as
delicate, yet because of this, her victories are all that more impressive. She
refuses to bow down to the expectation of fragility, which makes her truly
another character whose apparent fragility (being deaf) is used as a tool to
build tension, but in a twist, Maddie quickly proves that assumption to be
grossly wrong. Even the villain underestimates her, and for this, he pays.
Smart, resourceful, brave, and above all, human, she fights for her survival until
the very end. The movie pulls no punches: Maddie is hurt multiple times and
fails at escaping and overcoming her attacker. Yet, she doesn’t give up the
fight. Using all tool available to her (including her writer’s mind and an
alarm for the deaf), she survives. Despite not having a lot of dialogue,
Maddie’s personality is revealed via her actions. Witty and smart, we root for
her since the start.
Any list of badass characters without Ripley would be a failure. Ripley represents a major step for female characters in Hollywood. Originally written as a male, Ripley challenged a lot of stereotypes of the time (some which continue to this day). Her gender is only one aspect of her character, and she’s not defined by the usual female roles (damsel in distress, eye candy, and monster bait). We see her clash with others, we see her struggle, we see her tired and scared. Ripley proved a female protagonist could be successful in the box office and with audiences. And it’s almost criminal that she’s still so alone in the pantheon of kickass heroines.
Lorraine (The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2)
With great power comes great responsibility, and that isn’t just for Marvel superheroes. Lorraine is, in some ways, a superhero herself. Her supernatural abilities are a great toll on her, yet, she uses them for good again and again. Despite being a target of danger, Lorraine and her husband work to help people and quell murderous spirits. While she’s scared of the evil she attracts, she always tries to comfort others and make them feel safe. She and her husband make a great couple, always trusting and supportive of each other (a rarity in horror movies). Her empathy and courage are why she’s a hero and a badass one.
Erin (You’re Next)
The outsider to the machinations and betrayals of a rich family, Erin has no inclination to become another victim of the bloodthirsty assassins that invade her boyfriend’s house. Revealing herself to be more than the girlfriend character, she transforms the house into a bobby-trapped nightmare and manages to rack the biggest kill count of all the characters in this list. A true heroine of the slasher genre, her actions end in blood and gory bits. Among a cast of annoying and unlikeable characters, Erin shines brightly as the daughter of a survivalist who’s ready to do what it takes to make to the end of the movie.
Kidnapped by a
man with a multiple personality disorder, Casey has to learn to navigate his
psyche in order to find a way to survive and escape her captivity. She keeps
her cool and manages to hold off the “Beast” as long as possible, never
surrendering to fear. Around her, a cast of other victimized female characters
also display smarts and bravery but fall short of the supernatural threat they
face. While “spared” by the Beast in the end, Casey would have not stopped
fighting even against immeasurable odds. Her history of abuse isn’t glorified;
instead it adds another layer to her character.